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Writerly Roundup – March 2017

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Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don't want you to miss.

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Photo by Jena Schwartz

George Saunders: What Writers Really Do When They Write, George Saunders (@George_saunders), The Guardian

I love this essay by George Saunders because he brings clarity to a murky concept. Just because an artist has a plan and executes it doesn’t mean they have produced art. There’s far more to it than that. Yet, how exactly do we end up producing our art?

We often discuss art this way: the artist had something he “wanted to express”, and then he just, you know … expressed it. We buy into some version of the intentional fallacy: the notion that art is about having a clear-cut intention and then confidently executing same. The actual process, in my experience, is much more mysterious and more of a pain in the ass to discuss truthfully.

Saunders goes on to consider revision. Why do we revise, and how? And are we revising so our work “doesn’t suck” or are we revising because we are crafting a relationship with readers, and as our experience with the piece improves, so shall theirs?

We often think that the empathetic function in fiction is accomplished via the writer’s relation to his characters, but it’s also accomplished via the writer’s relation to his reader. You make a rarefied place (rarefied in language, in form; perfected in many inarticulable beauties – the way two scenes abut; a certain formal device that self-escalates; the perfect place at which a chapter cuts off); and then welcome the reader in.

Saunders assures us that our problems on the page become opportunities, and using his own novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, he shows us how we can shift our perspective and make the same realization.

I Have Made Fire! The Role of Readers vs. the Role of Mentors, Sarah Wells, (@sarah_wells), Brevity

I’ve just completed my MFA, so Sarah Wells and I have something in common: we both find ourselves adrift in a sea of unfamiliar freedom, post-graduate school. There are no more critiques, no more track changes, and no more voices telling me that I need stronger transitions. What happens after the rigid schedule of writing and revising, of polishing and practicing melts away and suddenly we have to do it by ourselves?

No one is asking to read my new stuff. I’ve crash landed on the deserted post-MFA island, and my writing is piling up on the shore in soggy FedEx envelopes. I’m not paying anyone to critique my new stuff. I’m standing in the sand having just drafted the most amazing thing anyone will ever read shouting to no one, I HAVE MADE FIRE!!!!

Now, instead of paid mentors, we have other writers. Readers. People like us who need a fresh pair of eyes on their work, and are willing to read your work if you’ll read theirs. These are the people we need when we’re on our own. We are the people they need.

Reader status is not transactional; it is reciprocal. I read your stuff, you read mine. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but back and forth throughout the months of solitary composition, an email here, a Facebook message there, How’s the writing coming?

Whether or not you’ve completed an MFA or are just clicking away on your own, remember how important other readers will be on your journey.

How to Develop Relationships with Other WritersDebra Eckerling (@WriteOnOnline), Aerogramme Writers' Studio

If you’ve read Sarah Wells's Brevity piece, you’re now ready to find some writer-friends. It can be tough, though. Many writers are introverts, but even if you enjoy an exciting social life, the act of writing itself isn’t a group effort. Usually, we spend our writing time holed up in a little office somewhere, removed from the rest of the world, and it can leave us feeling disconnected. Debra Eckerling writes in this piece about reconnecting with other writers. First, you have to find them.

Find and follow writers with whom you can develop relationships. Make a list of your top ten favorite websites for writers. Include personal writers’ blogs, online publications with multiple authors (like Aerogramme), and writers communities.

Once you’ve found the virtual friends, it’s also important to get up from your computer and make a physical, personal, real-life connection too. Eckerling suggests literary and library events, and encourages readers to attend at least one conference per year. There, you will meet other lonely humans who are seeking the same connection.

At events you generally meet three types of people: acquaintances, peers, and potential friends. Follow-up with everyone within a few days, and make the extra effort for those you really like. Send a note to all, telling them how good it was to meet them. In some cases, you’ll want to invite them to connect on LinkedIn. Also, check out their blogs and follow all their social media profiles.

Ecklering doesn’t throw a lot at us in this piece, but it’s helpful to be reminded that we’re not as alone as we feel, sometimes.

Little Shop of WritingC. Williams, Appalachian Heritage

A writing space is unique to a writer. Some can write in a library; some love a coffee shop full of sights and sounds. Personally, I can't even write when I hear a bird singing. Once, I threw open my window and tossed a Nerf ball at a cardinal because it was distracting me. C. Williams, on the other hand, made a very interesting choice for a writing space when a dry streak hit.

In December 2012, I moved into a writing space that’s in an enclave of stores in East Nashville called the Shoppes on Fatherland. It’s a popular area; lots of foot traffic. I wanted my studio to be a kind of humane trap for other lone writers wondering the streets of Nashville, looking for shelter. Then I did something un-writerly. I worked with the door open. Literally.

The author was seeking a way to connect past the solitude of writing, and the stream of passersby provided the anecdote. The important thing is to find a place that puts you in the right frame of mind. Your space must cradle you, calm you, encourage you, and push you.

If you are looking for your own writing space, I’m pretty sure it can be anywhere that puts you in the frame of mind that keeps you coming back, every day. It should push you, open you up, but offer safe harbor. It should make you mourn for it on days you cannot be there within its arms. Find a place that feels like new love for an old flame, or first glance at a familiar stranger. Every time I walk in my studio door, the first thing I say is “Hello.” I can tell it’s glad to see me.

Where is your perfect writing space? Tell us in the comments.

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Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we'd love to hear your input!


Laura Jackson Roberts is a freelance writer living with her husband and their young sons in West Virginia. She holds an MFA from Chatham University and writes humor. Her work has recently appeared on Matador Network, in Brain, Child MagazineVandaleer, Animal: A Beast of  Literary Magazine, DefenestrationThe Higgs Weldon, and the Erma Bombeck humor site. She also writes a regular nature column, Valley Views & Varmints.


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